The Muskie court sports teams are hard at work preparing for their upcoming seasons.
Led by head coach Angela Petsnick, the junior boys' basketball team kicked off action over the weekend with a pre-season tournament in Dryden.
There are 12 players on the junior team this year, featuring nine returnees in Grade 10, two new Grade 10 students, and one new Grade 9 student.
The boys won all five of their games at the Dryden tournament, highlighted by important wins against both the Kenora Broncos (61-44) and Dryden Eagles (57-31) as those are teams the Muskies face in NorWOSSA 'AA' action.
The top Muskie scorers for the tournament were Michael Vanderaa, Sean Huziak, and Wyatt Richards.
Petsnick was pleased with what she saw from her team over the weekend.
“This tournament showed me how much depth our team has this year,” she said via e-mail to the Times.
“I ran numerous lines and rotated all the players and it didn't matter who I put on, they all held their own,” she lauded.
“During one game, every single guy on the team made at least one basket,” Petsnick added.
“We still need to work on basic defence, finishing at the net, and crashing the boards for rebounds,” she conceded.
Petsnick also stressed the importance of the team working to improve heading forward.
“Kenora and Dryden are going to be working hard at improving, so we have to do the same,” she reasoned.
“We can't sit back on our heels," she warned. "We need to keep practising to improve our game.”
The Muskie senior boys' squad, meanwhile, has six returning players this season.
Head coach Bryce Coyle is hoping those more experienced players will help get some of the younger ones up to speed as quickly as possible.
Coyle said he wants the team to be disciplined and efficient, which he's made a point of emphasis during practice.
“We aren't a team that is trying to do anything fancy,” Coyle admitted in an e-mailed response to the Times.
"We try and create a lot of movement on offence and play hard individual defence.
“There are no fancy x's and o's for that,” he explained.
“We rely on the kids buying into what we are trying to do since they are the ones who have to put the work in everyday to play that style of basketball.”
In girls' volleyball, the Muskie senior squad will have a brand-new look this season as, for the first time ever, it won't sport any returning senior-level players.
Coach Duane Roen will lead the squad after spending the past few years with the junior girls' team.
Ellie Petsnick is the only Grade 12 student on the team, with the rest all being in Grade 11, but Roen noted she played junior last year instead of senior.
This year's squad only has 10 players on it so Roen believes getting the most out of a smaller roster will be key.
“[Right now] we are trying to determine who is going to play where and figure out what our team is gonna be,” he remarked.
“I'm used to having about 14 [on a team] so we also want to minimize injuries and put together the best team we can,” he noted.
“Even though we're a bit inexperienced at the senior level, we're not inexperienced volleyball players,” Roen stressed.
“A lot of these kids play on our club team, which plays in the Manitoba league.”
Roen believes the first game of the season will be a true test to see where the team is at.
“I would call this a rebuilding year, but I think we certainly have the skills to definitely be competitive against the teams in our league,” he enthused.
As for the junior girls, they'll be comprised of two squads this season.
Led by coaches Bob Kowal and Terry McMahon, one of the teams will be the regular NorWOSSA squad while the other one is a little less experienced but still will get the chance to compete in the same tournaments.
“It was important for the coaches to ensure these kids had the opportunity to continue to play and develop,” Kowal said in an e-mailed response to the Times.
“These are players who also have provincial club experience and are very skilled,” he noted.
“It allows for 14 more junior girls to be involved in the athletic program at FFHS and our hope is that as these kids develop, they'll be able to push for positions on the team in the future,” Kowal reasoned.
The junior squad hosted a mini-tournament over the weekend that saw Rainy River, Atikokan, and the St. Thomas Aquinas Saints (Kenora) all compete in the small gym at Fort High and also at J.W. Walker.
Kowal said the tournament was planned to help alleviate the nerves a team normally would face heading into the first game of the season.
“Normally, the first games of the year are usually a nerve-wracking experience for the kids,” he conceded.
"We wanted to change the narrative for that by having this mini-tournament in Fort Frances.
“We're hoping they'll be able to start to feel comfortable playing at this level and intensity and, more importantly, getting used to playing with one another,” Kowal added.
All four court teams will open the NorWOSSA regular season next Thursday (Dec. 7) when they head to Dryden to face the Eagles.